Print Back To Article Turn Off Images
2009 Chevrolet Impala
The problem with American’s family sedan is that there’s so much right with its kid brother.
By Michael Banovsky, Mar. 23, 2009

Impala. As if you could get any more American a car. Besides tearing up the racetracks in NASCAR-style oval racing, the full-sized Impala sedan has served this country since 1958 as a relatively efficient, comfortable, and affordable highway cruiser.

FAST FACTS

1. Chevrolet advertises the Impala as “The luxury sport sedan with appetizing MPG.” Don’t be fooled: the base model has a paltry 211 horsepower.

2. They’ll put a 303 hp small block V8 underhood for you for $31,000.

3. This car was designed to soak up the Interstate; fuel economy is at worst 24-mpg city and 16-mpg highway with the V8; V6 models achieve nearly 30-mpg highway.

Problem? It’s actually built in Canada. There’s good reason for this: General Motors’ Canadian factories regularly rank at or near the top in quality. It’s also assembled alongside the all-new Camaro — what better a place for your most hallowed brand names as a factory with a great track record.

SO WHY DON’T I SEE THE IMPALA ON TOP 10 LISTS?

One word: Malibu. Ever since the Impala’s kid brother hit the scene late in 2007, the Malibu has been giving customers a Toyota Camry-beating experience at a competitive price. And since a “mid-sized” Malibu is much nearer the “full-sized” Impala, customers who have taken both for a test drive are immediately aware the difference a year or two can make.

This latest Impala has been around since 2006, and is a perfect example of “play it safe” GM engineering. Basic looks, basic performance, and basic capability for the average consumer is exactly what the Impala delivers.

Unfortunately, playing it safe isn’t the best game plan right now.

MAKING THE GRADE

On LS and 1LT trims, the base motor is an ancient (but your mechanic is sure to have spare parts for) 211-horsepower 3.5-liter pushrod V6 with variable valve timing. From there, you can opt for a 3.9-litre V6 with 233 hp. Both V6 engines are Flex-Fuel capable, and can be run on E85 fuel…but good luck finding it. Top trim SS models get a small block V8 with 303 horsepower, driving the front wheels — all Impalas are front-drive only, and only available with a four-speed automatic.

Price? Base LS: $23,790; 1LT: $24,645; 2LT: $27,110; LTZ: $29,630; SS: $31,135.

Remember that Malibu I was talking about? It starts at $21,605 for 4-cylinder equipped models, but tops out at around $29,000 for a top-spec LTZ model with leather, 6-speed automatic transmission, and 252 hp V6 engine. Its output may not seem like much, but for the same money you’d be rocking a 233 hp Impala LTZ…and that slow-shifting 4-speed automatic. Fuel economy? They’re nearly equal, with the Malibu one tick worse on the highway (27 mpg vs 26 for the Impala.) City measurements are identical, at 17 mpg.

WHAT DO YOU GET?

Standard on the LS are dual front airbags, dual side airbags, dual side curtain airbags, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo, four wheel disc brakes, cruise control, one year of OnStar monitoring, keyless entry, a power driver’s seat, tilt steering, traction control and 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers.

The 1LT adds, notably, a remote vehicle starter, a more adjustable power driver’s seat, and 16-inch alloy wheels. Go for the 2LT trim, and you’ll enjoy anti-lock (ABS) brakes, an upgraded 233 hp engine, dual exhaust, fog lamps, rear spoiler, stability control, steering wheel audio controls, and 17-inch alloy wheels.

In fully-loaded V6 guise, the LTZ has a Bose stereo, auto dimming rearview mirror, heated seats, power passenger seat, and 18-inch wheels.

Though not many customers will opt for the full-on V8-powered SS model, your hard-earned cash will get you the most powerful engine available and better suspension. Inside, the wood trim is replaced with a more modern, “techno metallic” trim.

ON THE ROAD

I drove the 2LT model equipped with just about everything you’d want in an Impala. My tester came in at $30,280 (including a $750 destination fee.) Upgrades over the basic 2LT were a power sunroof ($900), upgraded power seats ($1,125), and a 6-disc in-dash AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo featuring an auxiliary input jack ($295).

While far from the sportiest car on the road, the Impala is likely just about right for the set of customers it hopes to attract. I found the power good, the handling good, the fuel economy good… ”Good” is about the only way to describe my drive, actually. Taking a corner quickly in the Impala is like inducting a La-Z-Boy recliner into the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection; likely the most pointless exercise imaginable for either object. Best to stick to the nation’s impressive network of Drive-Thru lanes.

PLUS

Nothing like supporting the home team
Built in Canada alongside the Camaro
It’ll lap up your commute like a kitten with a bowl of milk

MINUS

As sporty as sweat pants on Kenny Rogers
The Malibu does 110 per cent of what the Impala does, for less money
Front suspension and steering can start to feel “loose” early on

THE VERDICT

Sales-wise, the Impala hovers around being the country’s 6th best-selling sedan and 8th best-selling car overall. True, you get a ton of car for your cash. But if you’d like a Chevrolet, the Malibu is a far better buy. And the Pontiac G8 V6, at $28,935, will give you even better performance — and even comes with a rear-drive powertrain like the Impala yousta.

GM does make some of the best sedans on the market — thankfully, the Malibu (technology, style, value) and G8 (performance) are two that embody the spirit of the original Impala. Too bad the real Impala is so painfully average.

RELATED READING

2009 Chevrolet Malibu Review - Practicality meets peace of mind